Tempting Auzed: Chapter 24


Auzed watched Alex from across the room as she chatted with Meg and two other Sauvenians he didn’t know. The heart-pumping game they’d witnessed earlier today had helped to distract him, but it was no match for the turmoil charring his insides.

All night and day he’d thought about what he should do. Should he ask her to stay with him forever? Should he really forget everything he ever valued, change his core beliefs in order to be with her?

He was using this party as a test for himself. As soon as they’d entered, he’d been on edge. Males and females peered at her and Meg, covertly attempting to sniff them as they walked by or pushing their way into their conversations. Every muscle in his body was strung tight.

He was barely able to carry on any conversations of his own because his heart always leapt into his throat every time a new person approached her. Would this one be the one to recognize her and take her away from him forever?

He’d wanted to see if he could handle the constant scraping against his Traxian side, and he was finding out he couldn’t. Mild annoyance continued to build and morph into something far more dangerous. The next person to clasp her hand for too long when she taught them her Earth greeting was going to lose it.

“How are you doing tonight, Auzed?” His attention shifted to Relli, who had at some point walked up to him. Her brows were lifted in a mixture of curiosity and concern.

“I’m well, Relli, and you?” His head snapped to the side at a flash of movement near Alex, but it was only Meg, returning with drinks for herself and Daunet. He exhaled.

Are you well?” Relli asked.

It took Auzed a moment to process her question. He looked back at her and saw in her expression that she already knew the answer.

She let out a long sigh, and he saw a glimmer of understanding light her yellow eyes. “How far gone are you?”

He clenched his jaw and drank deeply from his glass, forcing his attention to remain on Relli. “I don’t know what you mean.”

She pursed her lips at him and raised a brow.

His shoulders fell with his deflating exhale. “I am consumed,” he muttered finally, not knowing quite how to describe the overwhelming feelings he had for Alex. How could any emotion simultaneously lift you higher than you’ve ever been and smother you in weighted blackness?

Relli nodded, a knowing smile playing around her lips. “That’s how I felt for Jut.”

“But…” he trailed off, not used to speaking so personally to near strangers, especially female ones. “But isn’t it difficult, the way everyone treats you two, and…well, what if more humans come? What if he recognizes somebody else?”

Relli’s face paled a fraction, and guilt swamped Auzed. He should’ve never put that thought into her mind. It’d been unintentional, but it was cruel all the same.

She peered over to where Jut stood, politely listening to a very drunk and very happy Gosten, retelling the same story he’d been barking about since he’d arrived, and smiled gently. “Say it did happen.” She turned back to Auzed. “If he recognized someone else. It would break my heart, but it wouldn’t change all these happy years we’ve spent together. At least I’d have that. When I think of where I’d be if I hadn’t stayed with him…” She gulped. “I would still be miserable and alone. Floating through marriages and pretending that each time I had to leave a new home, I didn’t feel hollow.”

Her words hit him hard, constricting his chest, because that was exactly right. When Alex wasn’t around, he felt like a shell of himself. She’d brought him to life.

“But,” Relli added with a pitying look, “I will admit this isn’t quite the same. I didn’t have females beating down my door to speak to Jut. And being recognized was never a concern. With so few humans, it still isn’t. I understand it’s different for you. And I can sympathize with your apprehension.”

And he was back to where he’d started. Auzed took another long gulp from his glass.

“Have you talked to her about it?”

“I decided to wait until I knew what I wanted myself. It’d be no good to come to her with more problems. She’s been through enough.”

Alex caught him staring and beamed. She gave him a small wave from across the room. Meg looked between them, then leaned toward Alex to whisper something. Alex’s grin faded a fraction. She tilted her head toward the balcony, and they walked away, disappearing through the sliding glass.

“Auzed!” Gosten boomed, stomping over to them and weaving slightly. “Did you and Alex watch the game today?”

Here we go. “Yes, we did.”

“Did you see that ending? Yeeshutu was incredible!”

“And so were you.” He grinned, slapping the male on the back.

Taking that as his opening, Gosten replayed the game from his perspective. “I was halfway up when I saw…”

Auzed couldn’t help but grin and listen to the male repeat his story of success. It was no wonder he was so elated. The points he’d received would likely double his overall scores. He was almost guaranteed a wife in a few weeks.

Auzed pushed down the spike of envy and forced himself to be happy for the male.

***

“So, what is going on with you and the hunky ice ball?”

Alex smiled, but it was forced. “I don’t know, really.”

Meg raised her brows in surprise.

“Let me ask you something,” she said, tucking her leg under her and facing Meg. “How realistic…or, I guess how likely is it… Ugh I don’t know how to ask this.” She sighed. “Is it possible? That they’ll let us go back to Earth, I mean?”

“Ah.” Meg nodded. “Worried to start something you can’t see through to the end?”

Alex grimaced. Like an idiot, she’d already started it. “More or less.”

“You want the truth?”

“Yes,” she groaned.

“I think it’s a real possibility. Maybe not soon, but soon enough.” Meg tipped her head and stared through the forest. “If it were just us humans complaining about it then I wouldn’t give it a second thought, you know. But it isn’t. Everyone and their mother wants humans to come here. Every city, every leader, every Clecanian. A whole planet of evolved, powerful, space-traveling beings are all working together to make this happen. I can’t even begin to imagine how quickly the red tape is going to get cut with everyone fighting desperately for the same cause.”

Alex deflated. Part of her had hoped the notion of going home would be so farfetched that she could give up on it. But if there was any possibility at all, she had to try…didn’t she?

“From what I’ve heard in the meetings the Queen has at the Temple, the only thing she thinks will hold us up are the other planets within the Alliance. They don’t give two shits about revealing themselves to humans, mind you,” Meg added with irritated pursed lips. “They just want to use their votes as bargaining chips to get other resources from Clecania. Or so the Queen thinks. She’s a smart cookie. Fair and firm. Doesn’t spew the bullshit we’d expect.”

Alex gazed at the lights twinkling around the hanging nests of Sauven. They were brighter tonight, and colorful. If only she felt the same.

“Is that what’s been bothering you today? You miss home?”

“Of course I do. I miss my family and my friends. I miss movies and familiar food and sunlight. I miss not worrying about how I act every. Single. Second.” She threw her hands towards the sky. “I need to find a way back home. I can’t imagine what my family is going through.”

“What about Auzed?”

Alex had to take a steadying breath; the tears that sprung to the surface just imagining leaving him burned. “We’ve known from the beginning that this was temporary. He has his job to go back to, and he can’t be married while he’s head guard. If I’m just going to leave him to go home, then what’s the point anyway?” She needed to start resigning herself to this. Bitterness at how unfair it all was rose in her throat. “Besides, he’s so rigid. We would’ve never worked long term. He barely tolerates the idea of demskivs as it is.”

The clearing of a throat behind them had them both turning. Alex’s heart stopped.

Auzed stood in the doorway to the house, muscles tensed and eyes as hard and cold as ice. 

Meg cursed under her breath and aimed an apologetic glance at Alex. Then she hissed through her teeth. “Maybe I should…go.”

“That’s a good idea,” Auzed all but growled. “King Bet would like us to meet him at the nest to discuss our departure tomorrow. Now.”

How much had he heard? Alex took in a shaky breath. It wasn’t as if anything she’d said was untrue, though.

Meg pulled her into a hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, alright?”

Alex nodded thickly as Meg scurried by Auzed and out of sight.

He held her gaze for a long moment, a nerve twitching in his jaw. “Go inside and say your goodbyes.” Stalking past her, he headed toward the herd of travel platforms waiting to be used.

Heart still thrashing against her ribs, she dashed inside. They’d made a point of saying goodbye to their new Sauvenian friends throughout the night, knowing they wouldn’t be seeing them again before heading out the next morning, but she couldn’t leave for good without a final goodbye.

Her mind was half gone, focused on the furious, hurt male waiting for her outside as she forced a smile and shook Fenut’s and Calep’s hands. “It was so wonderful to meet you. I hope I can see you again someday.”

“Maybe you could come back when I compete in a few years.” Calep grinned.

“Yeah, maybe,” Alex replied. She hoped one day she’d feel comfortable enough to visit Sauven again, but her forced imprisonment here for the last week might take more than a few years to get over. She peered over to Gosten passed out on a low couch with a huge grin curling his lips. “Can you tell Gosten I said goodbye? And tell him congratulations for me again. He was stunning.”

Next, Alex found Relli and Jut exchanging heated glances in a corner and paused, wondering if she should interrupt.

Relli spotted her before she could decide. “Alex. Are you leaving?”

“Unfortunately.” She sighed. “Thank you both so much for everything. I want you to come visit Tremanta as soon as you can, okay?”

Jut grinned. “We’ll have to wait until winter to avoid the sun.”

Alex tipped her head, “Huh, that’s right. Well then, I can’t wait until winter.” She clutched Relli’s biceps with both hands. “And you. You are an amazing, spectacular unicorn of a woman, and you really need to find another job.”

“Tell me about it. Though I don’t know what a unicorn is.” Relli chuckled. “The problem is I love being a ranger. And at least if I’m a ranger, I can make sure people like me aren’t treated poorly. Fierad is difficult to work with, but I can manage him.”

“Good.” Alex pulled Relli into a big hug and said her final goodbye, then moved toward the porch. She took in a steadying breath before walking outside. At the sight of Auzed fuming on a travel platform, a shudder rolled through her. She didn’t want to have this conversation. As soon as they did, whatever they had between them would end.

He angled his body on the board to make room, a silent request for her to get on. As soon as both her feet were on the board and her hands touched the handle, he took off.

The warmth that usually radiated from his body and into her back felt different, like a thousand small pricks against her skin. “Auzed, about what I said…”

“Which part?” he rumbled.

She sighed. “Nothing I said was untrue, Auzzy.”

As soon as the nickname had left her lips, he twisted the platform, heading to a nearby nest still being built, judging by the half-finished roof. Pulling up to the curb, he leapt onto the wrap-around porch and paced, hands on hips.

He refused to even look at her.

She swiped her sweaty palms on her shorts and searched for the right words to say. “We were talking about the future, and she asked me about you…about us. I didn’t know what else to say.”

“Because we always knew this was temporary?” he spat.

Alex scanned the smooth wood he paced over. “Well…isn’t it?” 

“How long have you been planning on returning to Earth?” he fumed, halting and facing her.

Alex blinked. “Is that what you’re mad about?” She’d just assumed her jabs at his personality were what had sparked this anger in him.

“Why else?”

A spike of irritation shot through her worry. “Auzed, that’s not fair. You can’t be mad at me for wanting to return to my family. I don’t understand why that comes as such a shock to you. You have your job back in Tremanta. What did you expect me to do, sit around and be alone forever on an alien planet until you decide to retire?”

His chest heaved, but he said nothing. Yet his gaze was still accusatory, pushing her to say more.

“And what then? Get married for three months?” She raised her brows at him. “I may have said it a little more harshly than is true, but you do have a problem with demskivs and breaking with traditions and all that. You care what other people think. I don’t want to have a temporary relationship…not with you.”

His eyes softened, and he took a step toward her. “What if I quit? We could move outside Tremanta and be married.”

“And extend the marriage indefinitely?” Alex couldn’t believe her ears. Was he really offering this?

“Yes.” He took her hand with both of his. The sincerity in his expression was genuine, but there was something else there. Uncertainty? Fear, maybe?

An image of her family gathered together at Easter, unable to be happy because she’d gone missing without a trace, popped into her head. “Auzed…” Her voice broke.

His mouth thinned, and he stepped away. “You’d still want to leave, wouldn’t you?”

“My family…I can’t just abandon them.” She lit on an idea. “You could come back to Earth with me.” Her voice wavered even as she said it, knowing he couldn’t.

He shot her a humorless smirk. “Oh sure. I can try to inhabit Earth as soon as they learn aliens exist.” He shook his head. “I’d be captured and locked away in an instant, or I’d put you and your family in danger.”

Alex wanted to argue, but she’d seen too many movies and knew what humans were like. He could almost pass for human, but he was just different enough that it wouldn’t be long before someone caught on.

“Well, that’s it, then.” He shrugged, an aggressive hike of his shoulders.

What else could she say? He’d offered her everything he was able to offer, but she couldn’t take it. The guilt would eat her up inside. If she stayed with him, she’d spend every day thinking about her family, imagining their suffering.

When she remained silent, he rushed past her and boarded the travel platform. Alex’s eyes were glued to her feet for the whole ride back. Her heart seemed permanently lodged in her throat, and she didn’t dare say another word for fear of dissolving into tears before they came face-to-face with the king.

Two guards and the king were waiting for them when they arrived. Inside the house. Not outside like any other respectful guest. She reminded herself that despite how it felt, this wasn’t their home, though. This was temporary lodging provided by the regents. He had every right to be inside.

“Sir,” Auzed greeted.

She glanced up to Auzed and saw his disposition was passive and stony, the same way it had been when they’d first met. Somehow, seeing him like that, as if the warm, grinning man she’d grown to love was gone, sliced through her more than anything else had. This was her fault.

She barely heard any of the conversation about transportation and timing. All she could do to keep from breaking down was stare ahead and listen to the buzzing in her ears. It could’ve been after minutes or hours of conversation, but at some point, King Bet moved and her attention snapped back to the present.

“It was wonderful to meet you, Alejandra. Are you positive we can’t do anything to get you to stay?”

Alex tried for a polite smile. “No, sorry. We have to get back for our…you know…marriage.”

The mention of their fake marriage had Auzed tensing next to her.

“Yes. I do hope the events of this week haven’t put a strain on the two of you. Dasa regretted not being here to see you off, but she had to travel to the council seat for a meeting concerning your kind.” The king nodded to both of them and made his way toward the door. “I was informed earlier today that your resignation has been finalized. I hope you two have a very happy marriage.”

Alex and Auzed both stilled. Had all the air been sucked out of the room, or was she just not breathing? The swoosh of the door closing behind the king sounded, and they turned to each other, eyes wide with disbelief.

Auzed dug into his pocket for his communicator and walked away. He didn’t need to tell her who he was trying to contact, but his quiet, “This is Auzed trying to reach the Queen,” confirmed it.

Alex stood frozen as he paced, clutching the communicator to his ear. A sudden weight on her shoulder made her jump, but she quickly realized it was only Wilson. The tuey gripped her face and looked at her with round, worried eyes.

“Hello, my Queen. The king of Sauven just mentioned something to me, and I wanted to confirm that it was false. It’s about—” He paused, waiting. “Yes, about that.”

His brows drew together as he listened. His features gave nothing away. He was once again impenetrable.

“Yes. I understand.” He nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

He lowered the phone with deadly calm.

“Wh…what did she say?” Alex forced herself to ask.

Auzed looked up at her, and his green eyes seethed with barely contained fury. “I’m no longer head guard.”

***

Auzed grappled for control. Liquid fire boiled in his gut. Alex’s face had grown two shades paler in the moments after his announcement.

“Can they even do that? How are they allowed to do that?” she asked in a small voice from behind him.

He spun. “A ranger brought the fact that I was still listed as the active head guard to Queen Dasa’s attention. She contacted my Queen this afternoon and requested my resignation papers as proof that we are, in fact, getting married. My Queen had no choice.”

“A ranger? Fucking Fierad. But why would Queen Dasa care when you—”

“I told you before! She dislikes my Queen. She didn’t have to ask for my resignation to be official. She pushed for it, knowing it’d be a blow since the Queen appointed me herself. It’s a petty, inconsequential power play, but Queen Dasa could’ve argued for you to remain in Sauven if the request wasn’t met!”

This was Alex’s fault. Never listening. Never caring about their customs. And all the while content to leave him and never return. He’d thought their biggest problem was him. That he was too rigid. Too opposed to leaving his career and settling into an unconventional life with her. He’d thought his fear of her leaving him for another male was the only thing holding them back. How stupid he’d been. She’d never intended to give him a chance.

Turning away, he crossed to the lift, no longer able to look at her. The female who’d made him fall in love, all the while knowing she’d eventually leave.

“Auzzy!” She caught his arm.

The surge of warmth that tightened his chest at the contact made him boil over. “No!” He flung off her hand. “Au-zed. We are nothing to each other anymore, right? So you don’t get to use that name.”

“I…” She struggled to find words, mouthing as her eyes grew glassy and pleading. “I’m so sorry. What can I do?”

“What can you do?” He advanced, and Wilson trumpeted at him, pressing herself between them.

He glared at the little creature, then stalked back to the lift.

She whispered, “Stay here,” to Wilson, setting her on the ground, then hurried over to him, catching him on the lift just before it rose. Her scent invaded his nostrils, so he breathed through his mouth. “Please talk to me.”

“Talk about what?” he barked. “How you forced your way into my life and are leaving it a smoking pile of ash?”

“Hey,” she cautioned, anger coloring her cheeks.

“You talk about how I’m rigid—what about you? You don’t think anything through. You wanted me, so you had me. You didn’t care how this would end.”

“Hey!” she said again more forcefully. “This isn’t all on me. You weren’t an inactive participant. And you were planning on leaving me too! Don’t think I didn’t notice your hesitation when you offered to quit your job. You would’ve resented me eventually, resented our life. It’s not what you really want. And all because you can’t see past what you’ve been told to believe. Not even enough to realize that the only time you’ve been happy is when you were with me. I saw it! You changed.”

Her words settled over him, and the truth he heard ringing back only added to the pyre of flames in his gut. “That was a fantasy. An act. One you provoked. This isn’t real!” He gestured between them. “You want to leave! I fought with myself every second since the day we met not to wrap my arms around you, and I should’ve fought harder! You know why?”

Alex stood back, crossing her arms over her chest defensively and swiping a stray tear. She bit the inside of her cheek but didn’t answer.

“Because that’s not how things are done here!” he roared, enunciating every word. “I don’t get to sleep in a bed with my wife. I don’t get to stroke her hair or lose my temper or laugh with her. In three months, she’ll be gone, and all I’ll have to show for it is whatever she’s left me with. I was content in that knowledge! Then you showed me differently. You made me want things I can never have again, all the while knowing you’d leave.”

Fat tears rolled down her cheeks. He felt pain and pleasure in equal parts because they meant she agreed on some level. Knew what she’d done.

He crowded her. “And yes, I hesitated, but not because I’d be married to a demskiv. It’s because if we were together, I would worry about losing you every single day. So, thank you. You showed me I was spot on. I was going to lose you no matter what I did.”

The pain shining on her face tore at his insides until he couldn’t stand it anymore. Forcing his feet to move, he retreated into his room and sank to the floor, head in his hands.

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